The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Is the UK about to change for Jews?

with 2 comments

  1. In a comment on a post about the Me Too campaign a reader writes the following:
  2. “The “Bagehot” article in “The Economist”, 10 March ’18, is entitled “It could happen here”.  The author makes the case that Britain could suffer an authoritarian takeover in the next 5 years. The threats come from: a government lead by Jeremy Corbyn, the incendiary right, Britain’s weak formal defences against authoritarian populism and its vulnerability to external shocks. The biggest threat comes “from a growing sense that democracy has let people down”. The proportion of Britons who support a “strongman leader” has increased from 25% in 1999 to 50%.The article concludes: “It is too early to head for the exits. ….. But anyone who doesn’t know where the exits are is a fool”.How should the Jewish community react to this article?”
  3. My initial reactions are as follows.
  4. The UK is still very much a malchus shel chessed (host nation that treats the Jewish people kindly).
  5. But the chessed (kindness) appears to some to be wearing slightly thin at the edges.  The hostility faced by university students who wish to express their Jewish identity in part by supporting Israel has certainly made some of them feel less than welcome within the UK academic environment.  The decision of a London coroner to change long-standing arrangements to accommodate the burial timing wishes of bereaved Jewish families has struck some as an act of overt anti-religious hostility by a public official.  Parts of the Jewish educational system feel under attack for failing to teach British values in the way they are interpreted by particular sectors.  Threats to ban shechitah and bris milah appear to some to be growing stronger.  These perceptions may or may not be fair, and they may or may not be accurate, but they certainly combine to show that some parts of the Jewish community do not feel entirely welcomed by significant parts of the wider UK citizenry.
  6. I speak for nobody on this, and I have no knowledge as to how many Jews, or what proportion of the UK Jewish community, would identify with all or any of the previous paragraph.  Personally, I think that there is some truth in some of the perceptions mentioned there, and although some are exaggerated from time to time they are not to be dismissed entirely and should at the least be used as a basis for thought as to whether the relationship between the UK and the Jewish community has changed, is changing or perhaps needs to change.
  7. Jewish history is marked by periods of ups and downs around the world.  We have often settled conspicuously comfortably in one region or country, enjoying a long and apparently mutually-appreciated relationship with a host nation, only to find the tables turned into expulsion or persecution in a relatively short period of time.
  8. Could that happen in the United Kingdom?  Of course it could.  If it can happen in all the different countries in which it has happened over the centuries, why should it be impossible that it could happen here?
  9. As a British Jew – born and educated here and operating daily in a range of professional, commercial, public and academic environments – I am always conscious not exactly of a divided loyalty but of having a range of loyalties.  Not divided, because that suggests a conflict that I have never felt.  But a range of loyalties, including to my religious beliefs, my family, and my community, as well as to my country, my Queen, my government and my people.
  10. Presumably everyone – religious or secular – also experiences a range of loyalties?
  11. So does that mean that I could find that loyalty to my religious beliefs was no longer compatible with loyalty to or participation in UK society?  Of course I could.
  12. Do I expect it?  Possibly naïvely, I don’t.  I believe that there is an innate tolerance and respect in British society that would be very difficult (although obviously not impossible) for one or more authoritarian or sectarian interests to displace.
  13. So personally I’m not packing any bags: rather, I am proposing to redouble my efforts to promote positive inter-action between all faith and non-faith communities in the UK to make it more difficult for unpleasant people to drive wedges between us.
  14. I have always believed and argued that real inter-community activity takes place not at planned events but on the streets, in shops, libraries, pubs, offices and everywhere open to the public (hopefully not too much on the tube, as I’m normally rather grumpy there).
  15. I do sense threats to tolerance from various sources; and I believe that we counter them most effectively by continuing to encourage tolerance, and by being increasingly scrupulous in ensuring that the behaviour of anyone who wittingly or unwittingly represents or is seen as representing a particular faith or other community, brings credit on that community and avoids disgracing it in a way that plays into the hands of those who enjoy division.
  16. I think it would be naïve to assert that there could never be a time when as a Jew I felt so uncomfortable or threatened in the UK that I had to leave, or try to leave.  Our history has shown that this can happen anywhere in the world.  But for me the identification of a possible threat to continued diversity and harmony in the UK is a spur to renewed emphasis on positive participation as a citizen, rather than on projected flight.

Written by Daniel Greenberg

March 18, 2018 at 11:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Thank you for responding to my enquiry. Do you imply (and can you discuss) that beneficial inter-community activity occurs in one-on-one contacts, where other members of society can see that we are also human?

    Michael Wilks

    March 21, 2018 at 10:18 am

    • Thanks for this. I certainly believe that it is crucial. Inter-faith activity is much more about daily contact than organised events. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in Jewish schools, for example – because I do; but it means that I believe that with Jewish schools and other “segregated” environments (including where the segregation is ephemeral, such as on holiday) we have to put real thought into ensuring meaningful two-way contact outside the bubble.

      Daniel Greenberg

      March 21, 2018 at 10:29 am

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